Balance in the media

Last updated: June 20, 2016

Should news broadcasters be required to be balanced and impartial in their reporting of events?

Balance in the media
Yes because...

A free media should be just that, without a requirement for balance. The reporting of news is a vit...

A free media should be just that, without a requirement for balance. The reporting of news is a vital form of free speech and the expression of opinion. Individuals and groups do not all see issues in the same way, and they should not be required to report and commentate on them as if they did. Forcing reporters, media owners and employees to portray sides of a story that they do not agree with is an infringement on their public expression of political conviction. For a state to maintain or use such rights of content regulation is unjust and arguably dangerous.
No because...
The issue is not that networks are forced to report any one particular angle, but merely that they should present multiple perspectives when events are contested, for example by interviewing representatives from more than one political party. Many of those working within the media take a great pride in providing this balance, and those who don't are not prevented from expressing their opinions in other manners outside of their work. If opinions were being suppressed then it may be a case of unfreedom, but the requirement for balance is for more perspectives to be put forward. This is very different from limiting expression.

Balance in the media
Yes because...

It is a double standard to impose requirements of balance on one form of media and not others. News...

It is a double standard to impose requirements of balance on one form of media and not others. Newspapers, magazines and Internet commentary are all permitted to report news from an ideological perspective provided they do not misrepresent the truth. There is no evidence that this is harmful, and the huge volumes of sales that these media enjoy show that people are supportive of this kind of reporting.
No because...
There is a difference between the reporting of events, which is the primary aim of TV news, and commentary on these events, which is more important to newspapers and blogs etc. Individuals can only make a meaningful choice regarding their preferred commentary on events when they are clear about the situations under discussion. If the news itself is biased then the individual is not choosing between the political discussions regarding the events, but the very version of events itself. Subjectivity regarding opinions should be welcome, but subjectivity regarding the facts of an event impedes rather than supports a healthy deliberative democracy.

Balance in the media
Yes because...

The media is a private industry, not a body of the state, and so its mandate is not to inform or edu...

The media is a private industry, not a body of the state, and so its mandate is not to inform or educate the public, but merely to provide a service that people are willing to buy. No other private industry is charged with 'contributing to democracy' - their responsibilities run no further than maximising profitability. Constraining the media in this way is a blatant and unjustified restriction on the right to trade.
No because...
There may be an inherent right to trade, but there is no right at all to trade free from regulation. It has long since been recognised that the airwaves of a nation are public property, and thus governments have good reason to licence and regulate those who trade in them. In fact every industry must prove a public good before being allowed access to public property. The arguments for deregulation of such industries thus hinge on their offering this benefit to society and not on any innate right to do business. Therefore if governments believe the public good is best served by a balanced media, they are more than justified in legislating for this.

Balance in the media
Yes because...

Private news coverage does offer this public good. A free media market would be responsive to the w...

Private news coverage does offer this public good. A free media market would be responsive to the wide range of political convictions individuals have. There would thus be a broad and representative range of political opinions catered for, which can compete in 'the marketplace of ideas'. Also, people who may now be apathetic and disengaged from current affairs could be presented with news coverage which is more accessible for them. This would make it more likely that they will take an interest in news stories of which they might otherwise have remained ignorant.
No because...
4. It is very questionable as to whether a really broad range of perspectives would be available. Whilst networks do differ in their output this is rarely representative of the entire spectrum of opinion. Also, given the cost of news provision, media markets frequently become concentrated in the hands of a few major players, such as Rupert Murdoch, or Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. This not only reduces the breadth of perspectives, but also means that they are those of commercial bodies, with particular and similar interests. Why for example would major media providers report impartially on questions of media ownership? Would there really be the same appetite to criticise a media friendly government? Impartial reporting is better served through regulation, than creating a market of similarly self-interested 'competitors'.

Balance in the media
Yes because...

Adult voters do not need to be treated like children. They are more than able to deliberate, weigh ...

Adult voters do not need to be treated like children. They are more than able to deliberate, weigh up issues and form opinions. Their ability to do this is the absolute basic assumption of the liberal democratic model. If news reporting is biased, outlandish or exaggerated then people will be capable of judging this. For the differing perspectives in between the state has no right whatsoever to say any are wrong or right. Voters can and should decide upon their own perspective in news coverage.
No because...
If we are treating citizens as rational decision making agents then it would be best to provide them with full information rather than slanted coverage. Research also shows that anything up to a quarter of newspaper readers are unable to identify any bias they may have. If people are seeking news from a source which they do not realise is biased, then how are they expected to make mature decisions based upon this information? It is better to start with news that is balanced, rather than risk this confusion.

Balance in the media
Yes because...

It is highly questionable that this balance can be achieved through a regulated system. There are a...

It is highly questionable that this balance can be achieved through a regulated system. There are always inherent biases within an institutionalised media that skew reporting and keep some issues off the agenda altogether. This is all the more dangerous given that it is done in the name of balance and impartiality. At least with a free media market viewers would know that what they were seeing was an opinion and viewpoint, and be able to treat it as such.
No because...
The very fact that groups on both sides of disputes frequently claim that 'balanced' news reporting is biased against them proves that this is not true. It firstly shows that a middle ground is being found, and secondly that there are systems in place by which the claims of regulated media can be challenged if any bias were to creep in. Broadcasters are under an even greater pressure to respond to such complaints when they are required to be impartial than if they were allowed to present unbalanced coverage.


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